Category Archives: Sufficiency of Scripture

How to tell if your church loves money more than Jesus…

Three steps…

1) Determine how Jesus would vote in an upcoming election. This is by far the most difficult step but still possible. The Bible is His revelation and speaks to all areas of life. So voting is in there, based on candidates who uphold justice (Romans 13).

2) Have the pastor preach on the evils and virtues of candidates and who the Bible is telling us to vote for.

3) Wait for someone to bring up the loss of the church’s tax-exempt status as a reason not to inform people of the Bible’s bearing on the voting booth.

You can determine three things from this actually: 1) need for more Bible study; 2) need for a more courageous pastor; 3) need to remove money (and any of its stanch advocates) as an obstacle to faith.

Example case: Obama is pro-abortion; McCain (though far from perfect) is anti-abortion and pro-life; the Bible is anti-abortion and pro-life. Vote McCain, if for no other reason than his standing on the most important issue facing the United States – the murder of unborn children.

Sufficient Scripture 5

So, should we take out the garbage before we water the plants or the other way around and where is this found in Scripture?

This is not as straight forward of a question as I made it sound. Scripture does not dictate any command about the priorities of trash removal over plant care.

In exploring the Westminster Confession, chapter 1 section 6, after the verses we’ve reviewed it states: “Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word”. Now, we know that we are saved by God’s grace through faith in the finished work of Christ Jesus only. We can also see in Scripture that our obedience is evidence of our salvation. When section 6 says that we rely on the illumination of the Spirit of God for saving understanding of such things (such things that were listed in the previous sentence: “man’s salvation, faith, and life”), the saving understanding of life is that we need to be obedient to God’s Word throughout our life, which is the evidence that Scripture promises. The Westminster Confession tells us that the work of the Holy Spirit is done through the Word of God in such a way that we are taught how to give evidence of our faith which extends beyond the direct commands of the Bible.

Does the Bible say the same thing? First, the Word of God is living (Hebrews 4:12). It is relevant at all times because it is alive. It’s alive because of its divine authorship. Second, when 2 Timothy 3:16-17 said that all scripture was profitable for training in righteousness in order that the believer might be equipped for every good work, it does not promise to give us steps for every situation. Rather the Bible uses teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness to equip us for every good work. The Bible is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to sanctify us – equip us, change us, make us like the subject of Scripture – Jesus Christ.

Sufficient Scripture 4

In this post we will look at 2 Tim 3:14-17 and its impact on the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture.

Without delay, 2 Timothy 3:14-17 (ESV) reads,

14But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it15and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.

As you probably know, Paul is writing to Timothy under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. In the previous verse Paul cautioned Timothy against “evil people” and “impostors”. In contrast to them Paul encourages Timothy to continue in what he “learned” and has “firmly believed”. Paul appeals to his own apostleship as the basis for Timothy’s confidence in his learning. Paul also validates the teaching Timothy learned prior to hearing Paul. These were the Old Testament Scriptures that “are able to make you wise for salvation”. But Paul does not stop there. Paul continues that they make wise unto salvation “through faith” and then only in Christ Jesus (v. 14-15).

After verse 15 is a good time to reflect on our study thus far in respect to salvation. The previous posts and these two verses, 14 and 15, are clear that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah, who was foretold in the Old Testament as the One who would come, suffer, and claim His kingdom; and, this is combined with trust in what Jesus did by living righteously for us and dieing for our sins so that we might have eternal life (Romans 3:23-26, 6:23). Therefore, the Scripture is sufficient to reveal salvation.

Now, what of the other aspects of “faith and obedience” or “faith and life”? How are we to understand the sufficiency of Scripture in those subjects.

We continue with verse 16 and 17 of 2 Timothy 3. In these two verses God reveals the origin of Scripture. It is “breathed out” by Him. If we trace the usage of the word Scripture through the New Testament then we find that it refers to the entire Old and New Testament (v. 15 above; John 14:26; 2 Peter 3:15-16). Being breathed out by God it caries the characteristics of God that are communicable to it. That is to say that God does not make errors, so Scripture does not have errors; God is truth, so His Scripture is truth (John 17:17); and others, some of which Paul describes next.

Not only is Scripture breathed out by God but it is profitable, as you would expect words from God to be. God gives us His word so that we may grow by its teaching, by its reproof, by its correction and otherwise by its training in righteousness. If the verses stopped here we would at least have a remarkable list of benefits which God gives us through His written word. In each case we profit from God’s word. But that would not fulfill the requirement of sufficiency. It would only tell us that God’s word is a benefit for these things but not that it is sufficient to completely encompass teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness.

In verse 17 God gives the reason for His teaching through His word in each of these areas. That reason is “that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work”. The growth in these areas produces competency in the one who practices them. Not only is competence born but competence grown such that he/she is fully equipped for “every” good work.

The phrase “man of God” is important. The word “man” does not refer to only males but to all human beings, male and female. The phrase though, links it to godly men in the Old Testament. There was a particular character to those called men of God in the Old Testament. The character was that carried by Moses (Deuteronomy 33:1), angles (Judges 13:6), Samuel (1 Samuel 9:10), Elijah (1 Kings 17:18), David (Nehemiah 12:24) and so on. These were men who knew God, knew His law, feared Him, trusted in Him only and served Him only. There is a very tangible and high level of effort to be considered a person of God.

So the one who is diligent, thorough and obedient to the word of God, God grants competency and equips that one for every good work through His Scripture. By using His Scripture as the only instrument by which He performs this, we see that Scripture is sufficient for the work.

Now, we continue in the next post by investigating what every good work means: should we take out the garbage before we water the plants or the other way around and where is this found in Scripture?

Sufficient Scripture 3

I’ll explore two sections today, the next verse and continue with Paul’s view of the gospel. The second Scripture passage that the Westminster Confession uses for Chapter 1, section 6 is 2 Thessalonians 2:2. This adds to the weight of Galatians 1:8-9. I added verse 1 for readability. The passage reads,

1Now concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we ask you, brothers, 2not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by a spirit or a spoken word, or a letter seeming to be from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord has come.

A similar situation occurred in Thessalonica as in Galatia. Some were teaching that Jesus had already returned; that the second coming came and went. Paul refutes this starting with encouragement for the church to be calm. The word of God then continues by striking through forms of communication that should not disturb us. Messages seeming to come through a spirit, spoken word or letters supposedly from the apostles are to be questioned when they say the day of the Lord has already come. Paul continues in verse 3, “Let no one deceive you in any way”. He then proceeds to show how that teaching contradicts what He taught when he was with them (“Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things?”, verse 5).

Weight is here added due to the expanded list of corrupt sources. Spirits, all other teachers or believers, any document, letter, book or the like that is not from an apostle (someone directly commissioned by Jesus Christ) and/or contradicts the teaching of an apostle is to be discarded.

As I thought about the last posting, I wondered if anyone would think that I defined a narrow scope for the gospel Paul speaks of in Galatians 1:8-9. That was not my intention. As we think about the gospel Paul taught (“the one we preached to you”, Galatians 1:8), we realize it must have been broad. As in today’s passage, 1 Thessalonians 2, Paul mentions how he teaches the gospel when he visits and establishes a new church. How could we know what Paul initially taught when founding these churches? We can look to the book of Romans. Paul had not visited Rome before he wrote the letter to the Romans. He was unsure of actually making it to Rome so he could build them up. Instead, he took the precaution to write down his initial, church establishing teaching. The book of the Romans, then, seems to be Paul’s initial presentation of the gospel. Along with this is the presentation He gave when He arrived at Rome, Acts 28:23:

From morning till evening he expounded to them, testifying to the kingdom of God and trying to convince them about Jesus both from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets.

Here the Holy Spirit inspires Paul to use the entire Old Testament to convey who Jesus is. In combination with my last post concerning 1 Corinthians 16:22a, it is easy to see that the identity of Jesus is heavily dependent on His preexistence. This allows the inclusion of the Old Testament into what is sufficient Scripture.

As a side note, I want to be clear that the sufficiency of Scripture for salvation does not mean that all parts of Scripture must be known in order to have salvation. Nor does it mean that because Paul used teaching much like Romans and drew heavily from the Old Testament that all of that is necessary for salvation. That would be a works-based salvation, completely contradictory to the Bible. Instead, the Bible is the sufficient source of all knowledge and understanding given by God that mankind may know about salvation. There is no special knowledge or insight needed or given that is not included in the Bible. Sufficiency means “as much as is needed”, not as much as is required. Since Paul used revelation from God to himself personally (which we have in his letters) and from the Old Testament, we know that those are parts that are used by God to grant salvation (Romans 10:17). God may use the hearing of a brief Scripture reading to bring faith to an unbeliever. We are not restricting the work of God by insisting that whatever is sufficient for salvation is also necessary for salvation.

**minor clarification Oct. 26, 2007 at 12:35pm**

Sufficient Scripture 2

Beginning with Scripture

Last time we previewed the subject of Scripture’s sufficiency. We looked at the SBTS Abstract of Principles and the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF). The Abstract says the Old and New Testament “are the only sufficient … rule”. The WCF says that God’s whole counsel is written in the Bible and “concern[s] all things necessary”. At this point both continue to list what the Bible is sufficient for.

In this post I’d like to begin with the Scripture references that the WCF listed after the initial sentance, namely Galatians 1:8-9, 2 Thessalonians 2:2, 2 Timothy 3:15-17. The first one should be sufficient for today [bad pun intended]. Galatians 1:8-9(ESV) reads,

8But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. 9As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

This passage is helpful in several ways. First, it gives us insight into God’s word. Second, it gives us insight into the way the WCF divines understood God’s word.

The bulk of the passage refers to the unique quality and completeness of the gospel. Paul is very forceful here. He is demanding that the Galatians abandon anything contrary to what Paul delivered to them. The Galatians were struggling through new teachings. Impostors had infiltrated the church with evil teachings. They taught that salvation was gained with the aid of the believer, that believers needed to add something to the salvation Christ provided. Paul is visibly angered in his writing. He enforces this by using his apostolic authority to proclaim them “accursed”, or “eternally condemned” (NIV), forever damned to hell. This language gives us strong indication of the degree to which the Holy Spirit is jealous of Jesus’ work (Exodus 34:14). But now, is the gospel here only reflecting Jesus’ work?

How broad is the scope of the term “gospel” in this passage? Surely the scope of “gospel” here could be all of revealed Scripture, the entire Bible. The other extreme would be that only the essence of the Biblical message is crucial, “God saves sinners” (as J.I. Packer summarizes the gospel).

To perhaps get a better handle on this, we need to look back at the context. There are false teachers in Galatia that are teaching the people a gospel contrary to the gospel Paul taught.

Perhaps it would be better to start with the act of these false teachers rather than their message. Whatever the message, they were willingly, openly and confidently teaching the church in a way contrary to God’s revealed word, which He revealed through Paul.

These people, the false teachers, were not merely inquisitive new believers. They were not merely unpracticed interpreters who needed to meet with their church to correct a personal belief they held. These were teachers that seem to have known what Paul taught. Paul reveals that these teachers “want to distort the gospel of Christ”. They “want” to distort the gospel. Their desire is the perversion of the gospel that Paul taught through the revelation of God. That is the first important step, these false teachers were maliciously seeking to pervert God’s revelation.

The second aspect is that Paul esteemed this aspect, “the gospel”, as critical. Paul wrote letters against those who denied Jesus’ deity, Jesus’ sufficiency in wholly securing the salvation of the elect, etc., and against those who did not practice church discipline, submission, love, etc. Rarely does he use such strong language. In trying to weigh these subjects we can appeal to both the current passage and 1 Corinthians 16. In 1 Cor. 16:22a God writes through Paul, “If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed”. The strong language is again used. The love believers have for the Lord Jesus is essential, the denial of which also brings the same pronouncement. We see then that in order to love Jesus there are at least two basic aspects: 1) knowing who Jesus truly is; 2) actually loving the revelation of Who He is. The second important step would then be to define the gospel as who Jesus is (including His actions, especially His complete work in salvation) and the love of Him.

How do the Westminster divines give insight through their use of this passage in the confession? The insight we receive into the minds and faith of the Westminster divines shows us that they were very good with both their knowledge of Scripture and their interpretation of it. They understood it all as God-given and therefore important. They also treasured the gospel highly and considered it both sufficient and complete.

We can then conclude that the gospel Paul speaks of in Galatians 1:8-9 is God’s full revelation of our salvation in Jesus Christ. As such, Paul teaches that anything contradictory to it is evil. It is interesting to note that only the contradictory is pronounced evil. We are encouraged, indeed commanded, to teach and expound upon Scripture, not only to read it without aid or interpretation. So the gospel of Jesus Christ, who He is and the love of Him, is sufficiently revealed in the gospel as taught by God through Paul, sufficient for salvation.

Sufficient Scripture 1

Introduction

Recently the sufficiency of Scripture has become a great area of interest for me. What does it mean for Scripture to be sufficient?

Sufficient is defined in the dictionary as, “adequate for the purpose; enough” (dictionary.com) and “being as much as is needed” (American Heritage Dictionary).

A good theological place to start is the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary “Abstract of Principles”. To define Scripture it says, “[t]he Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments were given by inspiration of God, and are the only sufficient, certain and authoritative rule of all saving knowledge, faith and obedience”.

The Westminister Confession of Faith states about Scripture in Chapter 1, section 6:

6. The whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture: unto which nothing at any time is to be added, whether by new revelations of the Spirit, or traditions of men.a Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word;b and that there are some circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church, common to human actions and societies, which are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.c

a. Gal 1:8-9; 2 Thes 2:2; 2 Tim 3:15-17. • b. John 6:45; 1 Cor 2:9-12. • c. 1 Cor 11:13-14; 1 Cor 14:26, 40.

With these as a starting post, I’d like to proceed with a few questions:

  • How is the Scripture “as much as is needed”?
  • With those things that Scripture addresses (“saving knowledge, faith and obedience” or “[God's] own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life”), how are we taught to determine them?
  • How are we to understand “all” or “all things” in “all saving knowledge…” and “all thing necessary for [God's] own glory…”?
  • When Scripture seems vague about a subject, especially in obedience/life, how are we to continue to pursue direction toward right action, by prayer that the Holy Spirit will directly impact our lives or by His direction through further Scripture study?

My next entry will begin to explore the Scripture passages referenced in the Westminster Confession. I also hope to review several articles and sermons on the subject. Hopefully this will give us more than enough to answer the above questions.